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Allusion in The Fallacy of Success

Allusion Examples in The Fallacy of Success:

G. K. Chesterton's "The Fallacy of Success"


"Midas, of the 'Golden Touch.'..."   (G. K. Chesterton's "The Fallacy of Success")

In the Greek myth of Midas, the foolish Minoan King Midas is granted a wish by the god Bacchus, and he asks that everything he touch turn to gold. Initially he is overjoyed, but the lasting effects of his new power become apparent when he attempts to enjoy a meal, and he begs Bacchus to free him from his curse. (A later interpolation, perhaps creditable to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1851 retelling in A Wonder Book for Girls & Boys, has Midas’s daughter fall prey to his “golden touch,” with his remorse at her temporary solidification motivating his redemption.) Hating the trappings of wealth, Midas flees to the countryside. There, he overhears a musical contest between Pan, a woodland deity, and Apollo, the Olympian god of light and music. Midas, alone of all, favors Pan’s reed pipes to Apollo’s lyre, and in retaliation Apollo replaces his human ears with those of an ass.

"what shall we say of books that inflame the viler passions of avarice and pride?..."   (G. K. Chesterton's "The Fallacy of Success")

Here Chesterton alludes to the seven deadly sins, a list of behaviors considered immoral according to Christian orthodoxy. The sins do not originate in the Bible; rather, they were introduced into Christian theology by Egyptian mystics in the 3rd-century CE. In his criticism of “Success” culture, Chesterton accuses those who pursue “Success” of the sins of avarice—that is, material greed—and pride—that is, selfishness. The other five sins are lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. In this section of the essay, Chesterton’s tactic has shifted; rather than attacking the idea of “Success” at the level of logic, he is attacking it at the level of morality.

"Unfortunately, however, Midas could fail; he did...."   (G. K. Chesterton's "The Fallacy of Success")

Chesterton points out the inherent error of those “Success” writers who cite the life of King Midas as a “progress amidst riches.” The error is one of omission. Chesterton’s assessment is correct: to view King Midas’s story as a model of entrepreneurial triumph is to neglect the end of the myth as well as its ultimate lesson about the catastrophes that follow the unabashed pursuit of worldly goods. Chesterton simply returns Midas’s “‘Golden Touch’” to its proper mythical context of failure and dissolution.

"as Darwin has gloriously demonstrated, THE WEAKEST GO TO THE WALL...."   (G. K. Chesterton's "The Fallacy of Success")

This is an allusion to the work of biologist Charles Darwin, who first postulated and popularized the theory of evolution with his seminal 1859 volume On the Origin of Species. One of Darwin’s core ideas was that of “natural selection,” which Chesterton amusingly rephrases as “‘THE WEAKEST GO TO THE WALL.’” In using the phrase, Chesterton is mocking the text of the success books he seeks to systematically dismiss. The suggestion here is that success books can offer nothing more than broad, inane motivational statements about the nature of competition.

"(sneaked from the sickening Little Englanders and Pro-Boers)..."   (G. K. Chesterton's "The Fallacy of Success")

This aside makes an allusion to the “Little Englanders,” a loosely defined group of English citizens who, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, opposed English imperialism and expansionism. During the Second Boer War (1899–1902), in which England fought against the Dutch Boers in South Africa, the Little Englanders opposed England’s activities. Chesterton uses the Little Englanders as an example of people who are ostensibly working against their own purposes—a mistake for those seeking “Success,” as the books he mimics would have it.

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